The St. Louis Jewish Book Festival kicks off its 40th anniversary edition this week, boasting an impressive list of more than 30 author events spread out over the first two weeks of November. The festival launches November 4th with laughs courtesy of keynote speaker Peter Sagal, the host of NPR’s smash hit Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me. Those who follow Sagal’s career closely may know that he is also an avid runner, having penned a number of columns for Runner’s World magazine. Having now run the equivalent of the Earth’s circumference, Sagal has collected his thoughts on running and its relationship with life itself in The Incomplete Book of Running, released October 30th by Simon & Schuster. The book includes “the humorous absurdity of running charity races in his underwear—in St. Louis, in February,” and we can only hope that anecdote gets replayed for the hometown crowd.
Several of the authors present offer the proceedings a more historical bent. Among them is Martin Fletcher, NBC News’ longtime bureau chief in Tel Aviv, whose new novel Promised Land tells the tale of two German Jewish brothers who survived the Holocaust only to be reunited in the nascent days of the nation of Israel. Dennis Turner’s What Did You Do In the War, Sister? features a fictional memoir crafted around the real stories of the Sisters of Notre Dame, nuns who hid Jews from the Nazis during the Belgian occupation. Historian Rebecca Erbelding’s Rescue Board reveals the hidden history of FDR’s War Refugee Board, a mostly unknown government organization tasked with saving Jewish refugees in the waning days of World War II.
Other authors offer a look at pop culture. President Ronald Reagan’s special advisor and press secretary Mark Weinberg reminisces about watching classic films with Ron and Nancy in Movie Nights with the Reagans. Jamie Bernstein gives a rare glimpse into the life of her father, famed conductor Leonard Bernstein, in her aptly titled memoir Famous Father Girl. Best known for hosting eight seasons of Dancing with the Stars, Samantha Harris shares her battle against cancer and her secret to a healthy lifestyle in Your Healthiest Healthy. The festival’s “Women’s Night” features Nell Scovell, whose new memoir Just the Funny Parts…And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club runs through her three-decade tenure as a veteran of a myriad of TV’s finest shows, creating the Sabrina the Teenage Witch TV series as well as work on The Simpsons, Murphy Brown, and Late Night with David Letterman. It was her experience at the latter that fueled Scovell to pen a famous 2009 Vanity Fair piece that excoriated Letterman and the general hostility toward women in late night television that sparked a nationwide debate.
Those looking to support local authors may want to check out the Missouri’s Own: Home-Grown Talent showcase the morning of November 12th. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jane Henderson moderates a panel featuring a trio of Show-Me State scientists: Juli Berwald, whose Spineless blends autobiography and biology as the author explores her life researching jellyfish and their relationship with climate change; Dr. Richard Lazaroff, a pediatrician whose Some Assembly Required gives guidance on parenthood based on 35 years of experience; and Jonathan Losos, whose Improbable Destinies explores the current state of the field of evolutionary biology.
Possibly the most intriguing event is Allison Yarrow’s November 11th appearance at MaTovu (4200 Blaine Ave., just a few blocks northeast of the Missouri Botanical Gardens). Yarrow is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, and more, as well as the TED talk “What to Expect Post-Expecting.” Her new book 90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality (published earlier this year by Harper Perennial) digs deep into the collision between American society and sexism in the 1990s, from the undermining of prominent women like Hillary Clinton and Anita Hill to the shameless way the media portrayed the likes of Monica Lewinsky and Tonya Harding. Considering the hell that is women’s lives in 2018, it’s safe to assume Yarrow will have plenty of interesting insights into where we came from, how we got to where we are now, and where we go from here.
Ticket prices vary by event, though free tickets are available for junior high, high school, and college students with valid ID, and some events require RSVP in advance. Most events take place at The J’s Staenberg Family Complex (2 Milstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur), though locations do vary. Full details can be found at www.stljewishbookfestival.org. | Jason Green